Votes for the NHL Awards were due this week, and New York Rangers president John Davidson believes Artemi Panarin should be atop voters’ ballots in the Hart Trophy race as this season’s player judged most valuable to his team.
“He should be right at the top. He had an incredible season on a team that’s finding itself as we move forward here. Just an incredible season,” Davidson said during an appearance on Hockey Central on Friday.
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Panarin finished the shortened regular season with 32 goals, 63 assists and 95 points through 69 games. He recorded the second-most helpers (tied with Connor McDavid) and third-most points (tied with David Pastrnak) league-wide.
The very thing that may have kept him off ballots earlier this season — the Rangers’ spot in the standings — might just be what now gives him his best shot at taking home the trophy. The 28-year-old has been New York’s greatest game-changer, propelling the rebuilding club to within reach of the playoffs down the stretch and ultimately landing them a spot in the NHL’s 24-team playoff format if the league returns to the ice.
“He makes everybody around him better, every single game, every single shift,” said Davidson. “He’s creative. He’s just a great, great talent.”
Davidson, of course, has a unique perspective on Panarin. The former Blue Jackets president traded for the dynamic left winger in Columbus, did everything in his power to re-sign him two years later, but was unsuccessful as Panarin made clear his desire to depart the Ohio city in search of a larger market. Davidson also saw how much that decision weighed on the player.
“His second year [with the Blue Jackets], everybody in Columbus — including me — wanted him to stay in Columbus, extend his contract. We tried everything: We had a dinner with the owner, we had his representative at the time come in and we had meetings. People in the city were putting up billboards on their own dollar, trying to get him to stay. I think one company offered him vodka for life,” Davidson explained. “He’s such a good person that I think that weighed on him just a little bit. It’s like the elephant-in-the-room type of thing, knowing that he’s gotta make this decision. It’s a lifetime decision, because it’s going to be an eight-year deal, so you want to be where you’re going to be happy, what you think you need for your family and your family’s future to raise kids and all that type of stuff.”
As it so happened, by the time July 1 rolled around Davidson was settling into his new role as president of the New York Rangers — where he ultimately landed his guy.
Davidson said that while Panarin was publicly very complimentary of Columbus, calling it “a fantastic place to live,” he “wanted to make that hard decision and he wanted to be a New York Ranger.”
“Obviously we know each other quite well and we trust each other very well,” Davidson said. “Luckily for me, when I got here and we went through the process to try to get him to sign, we were able to make it work.”